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Actually, it’s Dr. Bloomfield.  But the point about the boner is true.  Extraordinarily, this was a comment I found on an online forum which had linked to this post.  Even more remarkably, he means it as a criticism.  The discussion centred around whether my comments on men’s need to think about women’s point of view were more or less likely to help men succeed in picking up women.

Aside from sharing the remarkable line in the title – to which I think we can all sign up wholeheartedly – I thought it was worth talking about this because it demonstrates a few of the issues around quite a few young men’s attitudes to women.  I’ll be quoting some passages from that forum, not because I think the commenters are uniquely terrible people, but because they seem to express beliefs I see elsewhere.  I should point out the sterling job the moderators did on that thread, and the helpful remarks from other posters.  But there are some dangerous assumptions behind the comments, which are all too widespread.  (Quick content note: there are references to sexual assault further down in the article.)

The first response was one which I probably should have expected:

it does make you wonder just where you’re supposed to find a girlfriend doesn’t it?

Whilst the piece was hoping to encourage men to think about the other side of the situation – the women who are being regarded as “girlfriends” to be “found” – this puts men back at the centre of the argument.  Which is part of the problem.  If we can’t suspend our belief in public spaces as a device for finding us romantic partners, of course we’re not going to see another point of view.  The same attitude is visible in a comment which went slightly further in considering women:

It almost seems like it leads to the only conclusions of either never ask anyone out, or become the guy who ignores her boundaries and desires (and seems to invariably get all the women) and then be hated on online forever.  And then you’re that guy which is bad

This, however, is still focused on how violating a woman’s boundaries feels to a man.  There’s a real problem if the worst that is being imagined in this situation is that a guy is “hated on” online, or feels like a bad guy.  What about the women involved?  This is still whizzing around on the same track of male solipsism: the viewpoint is always centred around what might make a man feel good or bad about interacting with women.

This perspective is continued in more depth, and slightly more concerningly, by another commenter, who advises the other:

What they don’t realize is that the people who write this stuff mean what they say. Have you never seen the phrase “we don’t care about your boner”?  Feminist blogs are not giving men dating advice because they want you to be a successful dater. It’s not their concern, nor should it be. That’s up to you.

He develops his idea:

What I was trying to point out is that the male dater and the advice giver in this case are not pulling in the same direction. Your success in dating is of absolutely zero concern to them. If their proposed restrictions on the times and places of approaches is overly broad, it is of no concern to them. That’s the big grain of salt you need to take when reading advice from these sources.

If you want advice from a place that actually cares about your romantic success at all, don’t get advice from these sources. That’s not what they’re here for.

Behind the even-handed “it’s not their concern, nor should it be” is a worrying attitude here.  Heterosexual men should ignore feminist discussions about interactions between men and women, because those discussions have failed to centre their desire to have more sex.  Despite the apparent gestures towards pluralism, I don’t see how it is possible to accept that feminists are right on some aspects of this topic, but that single men should ignore them.  It’s not pluralism to say that this behaviour might be harmful to some people, but it might also be beneficial to us, so we’ll agree that we’ve got different aims and emphases in this discussion.  I don’t think the following passage makes good sense (and not only because it involves the quotation in the title):

Mr. Bloomfield doesn’t care about your boner, either. Skipping around his gender related posts, he doesn’t really speak about men except insofar as they harm women. This is his prerogative and he’s right about many things. I just believe that his view is severely limited and the lens through which he views these interactions is unhelpful to a man actually out there in the dating world.

I’m encouraged by the idea that I might be “right about many things”, but I can’t accept that this won’t – or shouldn’t – affect men’s attitudes to women.  This tolerance is no tolerance at all.  If men agree that women’s boundaries and desire are being ignored, then this is part of the “dating world”.

The reason I’m stressing this so repeatedly is that it is far too easy for men to forget to take women’s experience into account.  Advertising, films, music and all forms of culture regularly encourage young men to see women as goals, or targets.  The idea that dating consists of trying to “get” sex  or romance – rather than enter into a partnership with another person, however brief – is the default assumption.  It’s so easy to filter out the idea that women are real people with subjectivities and selves, that you don’t even have to say that’s not the case.  You can just say it’s not relevant.  That women having desires and boundaries is not relevant to a person who wants to have sex with women.  That should be utterly chilling, but it just slips past casually.  Men’s desires are already privileged and centred, so setting aside feminist views as “not helpful” reasserts exactly the male attitudes which reduce women to objects and trophies.

These attitudes become more evident as the conversation continues:

So basically…fratty mcbroson will continue to get what he wants because he ignores your zone system and approaches whenever he feels like and isn’t concerned over consent laws. It’s the suckers payoff from game theory.

As I said, I’m not looking to do that because I don’t want to be fratty mcbroson. And if anyone thinks he cares about women and empathizes with them then I have a bridge to sell you. These guys shout sexist slurs [a]t women through bullhorns and still get laid like crazy

I think it’s clear we’re talking about sex here.  The stereotypical “frat bro”, who does such sterling duty in persuading other men that they’re not really sexist, is not imagined having long, meaningful conversations with women.  Nor is he being envied his charm and casual enjoyment of women’s company and emotional support.  He “gets what he wants” and “get[s] laid like crazy”, and – to spell it out tediously obviously – other men are assumed to envy him this.

Women are not people in this vision of dating and campus life.  If men envy “Fratty McBroson”, they envy the sex he is getting, and that sex is imagined as a commodity abstracted from the bodies of the women around him.  It’s not being seen as an activity undertaken together, or something which is “created” when two people have sex with each other.  It’s a commodity which men are trying to ”acquire”, and to which women control access.  It’s a weird, zero-sum view of dating, in which there is a certain amount of sex on campus, and women will dole it out to men, if they persuade or cajole them. The “fratbro” is described as crass, unpleasant, morally dubious, and yet we are still expected to think he is “doing” sex successfully.

He’s also a rapist.  Another fact which slipped so easily past in this discussion.  But it’s explicitly said that this stererotypical “Fratty McBroson” will “get what he wants” because he “isn’t concerned over consent laws” and still “get[s] laid like crazy.”  That’s not sexual success, that’s rape.  These young men are not envying a lover his affairs, or even envying a “stud” his “conquests”.  They’re envying a rapist’s crimes.  And they’re assuming that every other man on campus does the same.  Is it any wonder feminists talk about rape culture at university?  The complaint here is not that the “fratbro” is a morally despicable person, committing crimes and getting away with them unpunished.  The complaint is he’s raping women and that’s somehow taking away other men’s supply of sex.

Rape is not the same as having sex.  That should not be controversial, but it apparently needs repeating again and again.  Rape is not sex, and if young men are jealous of somehow who “isn’t concerned over consent laws” then they are in a hideous confusion and should think very seriously about their attitudes to women.  They might very justifiably decide not to be around women – and certainly not to look for dates – until they no longer mix those things up in their minds.

This isn’t hyperbole or reduction ad absurdum to make a point.  A study by Edwards, Bradshaw and Hinsz, entitled “Denying Rape but Endorsing Forceful Intercourse” found that a group of young men would describe themselves as having raped women, so long as the word “rapist” wasn’t used.  One-third of the cohort would agree to questions which identified them as “using force to obtain intercourse”, though a much smaller fraction recognised their behaviour as “rape”.[1]  The combination of confusion and deliberate ignorance, of not thinking too carefully about women’s experiences and deciding to look away from anything which might impede men getting what they want, has real and toxic consequences.  There seem to be significant numbers of young men who literally do not know that sex is different from rape – or are being allowed not to understand that, or are being supported in their wish to ignore it.

Men are all too often allowed to “tune out” whatever doesn’t align with their desires and their vision of the world.  It’s only when we pause and take apart what is said around us that we become horrified by the implications involved.  Or we choose to think of them as irrelevant, or inconvenient, or just probably true from one point of view, if you apply a certain lens to society.  This is why feminism is necessary, and why it is not simply one way of looking at things.  Despite the flippant title, if young men have these sorts of attitude towards sex, I think I do care about their boners.  Because they might “accidentally” use them to hurt someone.

[1] When I came to check the details of that paper, I was slightly shocked to discover I’d misremembered it.  Edwards, Bradshaw and Hinsz didn’t discover that men would admit obtaining intercourse via force if it wasn’t labelled “rape”, they set out to investigate the correlation between that fact and certain other variables.  In other words, they took it for granted that this was the case, since it was a recognised fact in their field, based on information from as far back as 1998.

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